London to Glasgow By Rail for a Night at the Opera

Theatre Royal Glasgow

One of the best reasons to travel is to actually see all those places you’ve only read about. I read a lot of novels set in the UK and Ireland and I watch a lot of shows from the BBC, so I’m happy that I get to see a little bit of Scotland on this trip.

We landed in London yesterday but only spent one night there before hopping on a train to Glasgow this morning. We had been warned that trains to Scotland are often late so we weren’t surprised that the Virgin Train left London 20 minutes behind schedule. Then there was a freight train up the line somewhere that was mysteriously disabled causing a backup that delayed us another forty minutes or so. Other than that, the train was actually quite pleasant. The seats were comfortable and the view out the window was interesting. I think I saw more sheep today than in all my previous 69 years of life.

Glasgow Street Mural

When we finally arrived, we quickly checked into our hotel and then set off on a short walk to see what we could see. Our plan was to go to Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis where we were told we could get the best views of the city. Along the way, we were distracted by some of the amazing street murals on the buildings we passed, so by the time we reached the cathedral, we were too tired and it was too late for us to climb the hill to the Necropolis. Maybe tomorrow.

After dinner we made our way to Theatre Royal, home of Scottish Opera, for a performance of Tosca. It’s a lovely hall and a lovely opera. We have seen Tosca many times and sometimes I think we’ve been spoiled by the Met Live in HD performances where the sets and costumes are spectacular and every aria is breathtaking. Tonight we saw a very respectable show without the glitz and glamor and top-name stars, but an enjoyable evening all the same. Each time we see Tosca we hope for a happier ending, but tonight was like all the others. She jumped.

Tomorrow we spend our second day in Glasgow and I’m hoping to take more pictures. The internet in our hotel is unreliable, but I’ll try to post some in the photos section.

So This is Milan

It’s said that the Fascist Mussolini made the post-war trains run on time in Italy (not true) but they don’t run on time now. Our train to Milan was quite late, but the trip itself was pleasant. We were seated with two women (mother and daughter) who spoke English fluently so we felt quite at home. The mother, Dawn, is about our age and originally from Long Island, New York but moved to Florence to get her Masters Degree and stayed. Her daughter was born in Italy and lives in Rome. We talked about American politics, music, art, education and our children. Dawn is recently widowed and has turned her home outside Florence into an Airbnb and if she sends us a link to her site, I’ll share it.

The Last Supper

Milan is not like Florence where you can walk to almost everything, so we were often lost. We did manage to find the Metro and get to the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie where we got a tour including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. This is an image we all grew up with, and seeing the original was especially satisfying.

Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie

You can’t just walk in and look at it, you have to have reservations or be with a group. The room is entered and exited through rooms that serve as air locks, and each group is allowed only 15 minutes of viewing time. Our tour guide explained that Leonardo did not like to use the fresco technique of painting on wet plaster because it dries quickly and once dried cannot be changed. He liked to work slowly so he used tempera paint over the plaster, and over the years the humidity and other factors have done a lot of damage. It’s still impressive and much bigger than I expected.

Our tour continued on to the Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore where the walls and ceilings are covered with Renaissance frescos. It’s often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Milan. The church is divided by a wall forming a separate nuns’ hall where there’s a huge organ built in 1554. From the church we went to the Sforza Castle, a large citadel that was impressive and extremely crowded. There are several museums there that we could have visited, but it was getting late and we had to get some dinner and  make our way to the Piazza del Duomo.

La Scala

The Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city is a happening place. There were tour groups, street performers, and a group of people marching for animal rights (we first saw them at the Sforza Castle). Our destination was the renown opera house La Scala because we had tickets for the last performance of their 2016-17 season, Verdi’s Nabucco. We got our tickets online in August, and the only ones left had a limited view of the stage and weren’t together, but we jumped at the chance to see an opera in the most famous hall in the world. Our seats were in separate boxes, and it was hard to see, but it was still La Scala!

We recently saw the Met Live in HD production so it was hard not to compare. I have to admit that I prefer the Met production. The opera is set in Babylon in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but sometimes directors choose to change up things a bit and set the opera in more modern times, so this one looked like a black and white movie from the 30s. I know I should be more open minded about such things, but I really prefer the original settings (same with Shakespeare plays). Sometimes it almost works, but not this time. I was also disappointed in the chorus, probably because I was comparing it to the Met. There’s a chorus in the third act, Va, pensiero, or the The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves that was so beautiful and moving in the Met production that the audience demanded an immediate encore. That was not the case with this production. The chorus was not together and did not project that same sense of melancholy I was expecting. Still, it was La Scala! I’m happy we had the experience.

The Colosseum, the Forum, and Opera Roma

The Colosseum

We purchased our Roma cards today which make getting around Rome and getting into museums much easier. We hopped on the Metro and went to the Colosseum with a few thousand other tourists. With Rick Steves as our guide (Paul has the app on his phone) we walked around and marveled at the amazing engineering feat the Romans (with slave labor) managed to create for viewing all kinds of barbaric entertainment (think football).  I kept thinking about the short story The Lady or the Tiger that I used to read with eighth-graders because they loved both the romantic and barbaric aspects although the ambiguity drove them crazy. The story doesn’t take place in Rome but in some semi-barbaric kingdom with an arena. Maybe my favorite part of the tour was when Mr. Steves explained that Roma and Amor together form a palindrome.

We then went to the Forum and I was disappointed that nothing funny happened on the way. I wish we had more time there because there’s much to see, but we managed to get through about half of the Rick Steves tour before we decided we’d had enough. You can see some of our pictures on the Rome page.

Opera Roma

In the evening we went to Opera Roma to see La Traviata. The hall is beautiful and we were seated in a box with three lovely Italian ladies who delighted in practicing their English with us during the intermissions. This is our third time seeing La Traviata this year. We saw the Met Live in HD production at the movie theater and the Opera Maine production in July, but one can never see enough La Traviatias, right? This production was good; the orchestra was great and the singing was okay although a bit dull in the first two acts. I think we have become accustomed to seeing great acting in operas on the Met stage because when it’s being broadcast to theaters around the world, the singers play to the cameras. It was still a great experience seeing an Italian opera in Italy (directed by an American, Sofia Coppola) with both English and Italian supertitles.